There’s a lot to think about when planning your big day—no matter where your wedding date falls on …
the calendar. But if it happens to be in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, you might be wondering what you should do—if anything—to prepare and plan for the potential that your wedding may be affected.
Right now, whether you’re planning a wedding at home or abroad, there are countless moving parts surrounding COVID-19—and since this situation is fluid, what it means for your wedding, specifically, really depends on your wedding date, guest count, location, and extent of travel involved.
Step one: Keep calm!
by Jenn Sinrich and Anna Price Olson
MEET THE EXPERT
Alison Laesser-Keck is an event producer and creative director at Alison Bryan Destinations in Santa Barbara, California. She and her husband and business partner, Bryan, specialize in destination wedding planning.
Aleah Valley is the co-founder of Valley & Company Events in Seattle. She and her husband, Nick, have been planning weddings for 17 years. In 2018, they published their first book, Storied Weddings: Inspiration for a Timeless Celebration That Is Perfectly You.
Eva Clark of Eva Clark Events is a wedding planner based in Atlanta. With 17 years of experience, she has planned more than 500 weddings domestically and abroad.
However, at this point, it's safe to say that any wedding in the near future will look differently, whether it's allowed to happen on a smaller scale right now or as you'd dreamed later on. To help you prepare for what you should do—and help if you do, sadly, have to change plans—we spoke with experts across the industry, including travel consultants and wedding planners, to give you a closer look at how COVID-19 is affecting wedding planning right now, and how to prep for the coming months.
"Your day will come, and trust us when we say it will be the most amazing thing. When we can all come together and celebrate, there will be nothing else like it."
Their overall advice? Be prepared, follow the news closely, and maintain an open conversation with your vendors and guests. Also, if you can, book a planner—even an hourly one if your budget allows—to help navigate everything. And, most importantly: Keep your eye on the end goal!
"As always, take care of yourself. Honestly, it’s OK to cry. It’s OK to be angry or to feel a wide range of emotions," says Alison Laesser-Keck of Alison Bryan Destinations. "One thing we like to tell our clients is that it’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when. Your day will come, and trust us when we say it will be the most amazing thing. When we can all come together and celebrate, there will be nothing else like it."
Below, what you need to know about coronavirus and wedding planning, based on when and where you're saying "I do."
If Your Wedding Is Planned in the U.S. in Early 2021
"Whenever you can play it safe, do," says Laesser-Keck, who, along with her husband and partner Bryan, specialize in destination weddings. "For us, it is important to make the decision at least four-to-five months before to allow guests to be able to modify their travel arrangements," she continues. "It is also better for everyone's mental health."
That said, while many of the planners we spoke to have recommended postponing until 2021, it's ultimately up to the couple—and their venue—to decide the best plan for moving forward. For example, Eva Clark of Eva Clark Events has moved all but one of her events in 2020. And the one that went on? The couple completely pivoted, trimming their guest list from 300 to 50, pushing up their date by two months, and moving the venue to marry in a socially distant ceremony with no dancing.
So, whether you're postponing, considering a postponement, or moving on with a wedding this year, check out what our experts advise below.
Rules and regulations vary by state, and sometimes by county, so it's important to stay informed with the latest guidelines in your wedding location, as well as where your guests will be traveling from.
What to Do If You're Considering a Postponement:
When considering the right time to officially make the call, Laesser-Keck admits that there are a lot of variables to keep in mind. "Every situation is different, but generally speaking, to allow for a process with far less stress, we are recommending that the decision be made approximately three to five months out," she says.
While that timing may be ideal, it also may not be possible for you depending on the flexibility of your vendors. For example, while Clark was able to reschedule her spring weddings to prime dates in 2021, she recognizes that the circumstances—for couples, vendors, and the world—have now changed. "Some of my couples have been able to postpone without losing much of their investment, while others are kind of stuck in a holding pattern based on how far their wedding is," she says. "Some of my peers feel that we won't return to 'normal events' until summer 2021. None of us have a crystal ball, so the next steps are rock-hard to navigate."
In order to make the decision that is best for you, your wedding, and the safety of all of your guests, consider taking the below steps.
- Consult With Your Team: First, Valley encourages couples to speak with your entire creative team in the same swoop—your wedding planner, the venue, catering team, musicians, video and photography team, basically anyone involved in the day. "Get a pulse on a potential back-up plan and have alternate dates in place sooner in case regulations or your outlook shifts," she says. "The goal is to have all of your loved ones safely attend your big day so everyone can celebrate you. Try to think about changing a date as just that—picking up your wedding and simply moving it to a date that feels good for everyone involved so everyone can safely celebrate."
- Recognize Your Priorities: "When we postpone a wedding, we are first and foremost determining if the venue and hotels can accommodate the new date, and after that, we’re reaching out to all vendors simultaneously to see if they can do the same," Laesser-Keck says. "Chances are slim that your entire plan and team will be able to be carried over without any changes, and you’ll have to consider any extra fees that may be associated when determining whether to postpone later in 2020 or move to 2021, but in general you’re aiming for the least amount of changes and financial impact as possible."
- Determine Non-Negotiatables: Speak with your partner and consider what your non-negotiables are, and how they will influence your ultimate decision. For example, are you willing to scale back from a ballroom wedding with 250 guests to a backyard wedding with 50 guests? Are you okay with not being able to hug your guests or dance close to them? Is it imperative that any elderly people attend your wedding, such as your grandmother?
- Consider Your Guests: "Where your guests are traveling from is definitely a huge factor," says Laesser-Keck. "Just like the availability of your venue, if your guests have made travel plans, you need to think about how much time they’ll need to make adjustments." If your guests are primarily local, she says you can likely make your final decision closer to three months out but says it's important to keep in mind that invitations should really be sent at three months to allow for an RSVP deadline of eight weeks before the wedding date. "We always recommend eight weeks to allow for seamless production (availability of décor, the printing of day-of materials, sourcing of welcome gifts, et cetera)," she says.
In terms of a postpone-by date, the sooner the better. With so many 2020 weddings moving—plus, new quarantine proposals—we recommend acting swiftly so you can secure a new date, and inform your guests and team accordingly.
What to Do If You're Waiting to Decide
In order to make a decision when the time comes, go ahead and have a serious discussion with your team to decide the best plan of action moving forward. It doesn't hurt to know what your options may be if the current regulations are extended to include your wedding date—so speak to your planner, if you have one, and if not, call your venue to see what your options might be. "The best thing you can do is create a roadmap of options so that once more info comes in, you can make quick and informed decisions," adds Laesser-Keck.
- Talk to Your Venue: "If you’ve booked a popular wedding venue that does 52 weddings a year, you might not be able to get in any sooner than a year out if you wait too long to decide—unless of course, you choose another day of the week," says Laesser-Keck. "With that said, some venues won’t even discuss postponement with you too far in advance." Moral of the story? Talk to your venue and be transparent about what your concerns are so that you have a support system and can be ready to make the leap when the time is right.
- Speak With Your Vendors: “Sometimes it’s best to get it out of your system and think of the worst scenarios so you can prepare and come up with a game plan,” says Daniela VillaRamos, officiant and owner of Once Upon a Vow in Brooklyn, New York. “Ask vendors about solutions should you need to postpone your event if you and/or your partner get diagnosed with COVID-19.” If you’ve already signed contracts with wedding vendors (we hope you did!), it’s smart to go ahead and have a sit-down discussion with your wedding vendors, such as your photographer. “Sit down and revisit their contract to what might happen if they need to cancel or postpone their wedding,” advises Michael T Davis, a wedding photographer in Central Pennsylvania. "You should have a transparent and honest conversation about your anxieties with all of the vendors on the topic of sanitization and what vendors are doing to keep themselves and their wedding party/guests safe."
- Keep Everyone in the Loop: To avoid having to constantly field questions from family members and wedding guests, Marlie R. Vodofsky, owner of Marlie Renee Designs, in Jersey City, New Jersey, suggests proactively adding a blurb to your wedding website acknowledging the coronavirus, and letting guests know you will keep them in the loop should any plans change. “You can also go as far as adding a link to the CDC website in the ‘travel and accommodations’ section of your wedding website so guests can quickly access up-to-date and accurate information as well,” she adds.
- Be Considerate of Your Guests: To that point, Laesser-Keck emphasizes how important it is to account for your guests' health, time, and finances at this time. "Really be considerate of your guests, and try to give yourself a deadline to make a decision that allows for their comfort and peace of mind," she advises. "Just as on the day of the wedding, you want them to feel taken care of, so giving them extra time to make adjustments or cancellations to their travel will be greatly appreciated."
What to Do If You've Decided to Postpone
Whether you're forced to postpone or decide to out of precaution, it's important to remember that you do have options, and your team—and family, friends, and us!—will be there to guide you through the process of postponing your event. "As planners, we want this to happen for you. You deserve to celebrate," says Valley. "Let’s just shift the date to make that happen."
To help you navigate that process, see our complete step-by-step guide to postponing a wedding here. Want the short version? Get started with the below.
- Hire a Planner: "If you don't have a planner, enlist the help of an expert with some one-on-one consulting," Clark recommends. "Many planners offer this on an a-la-carte basis. Some will offer it out of the goodness of their hearts."
- Review Your Contracts: While Clark says to start with this step as a couple—to understand your options and investment—she doesn't mean to lead with paperwork when discussing with vendors. "Don't lead with them when it comes to negotiating a postponement or cancelation with your venue and vendors," she says. "Vendors are far more likely to work with you on a postponement than a cancelation. Start the conversation softly and avoid obtuse language."
- Decide on a New Date: This step involves two layers—speaking with your immediate family and VIP guests and your vendors. "Work your way down from the most expensive vendor to the least in search of your new date," Clark advises. "I recommend focusing on a season, versus a day or month, in order to garner the best results." Also, before confirming the new date, she recommends having 80 to 100 percent of your vendors confirmed. Why? "If you are able to get all but your hair and makeup artist on board, it is probably best to lose that $500 deposit and reserve the date that you want the most," she says.
- Expect Extra Fees: Be prepared to pay extra fees or lose a portion of your investment. "As this pandemic continues to affect all aspects of our economy, venues and vendors will likely become more rigid in their policies," Clark says.
- Move Quickly: It's no secret that time is of the essence right now. "Be prepared to move quickly," she says. "Other clients are your competition here as so many are in the same boat. This requires flexibility and optimism!"
What to Do If You're Moving Forward With Your Date
Whether your wedding is set for later this year or you're planning to host a more intimate affair at home in the meantime, it's likely that it will look different as a result of COVID-19.
"All considered, I am now telling all my clients that if you proceed with your wedding, you must be prepared to adjust your expectations," explains Clark. "In other words, in addition to a reduced guest count, you will likely need to implement safety precautions such as thermometer scans, masks, sanitizing stations, and, possibly, waivers for guests to sign. Letting guests know that you are taking these precautions, on your wedding website, will give them some confidence. Even so, know that some just won't attend."
In addition to the above advice, we recommend taking the following measures when saying "I do" at this time.
- Follow CDC Guidelines: If you have your date and venue set, pay attention to what the experts (CDC) are saying and heeding their advice, suggests Trip Wheeler, president of SB Value, a company that buys food for caterers, concessionaires, and culinary professionals. “Pay close attention to what venues are allowed to do and how they can make sure their guests are safe,” he says. “Yes, it’s your wedding, the most important day in your life, but the last thing you want in your celebration is to make a lot of people sick.”
- Expect a Smaller Guest Count: It’s important to be aware of your guests’ travel plans, and understand if some guests choose not to attend the wedding or any pre-wedding event.
- Consider F&B Minimums: According to Heather Jones, the catering sales director of Wente Vineyards, in Livermore, California, couples are having a more difficult time meeting their food and beverage minimum due to lower guest counts. “Couples have guests that are unable to obtain visas to travel, air flights canceled or domestic guests that are concerned about traveling,” she says. "If you’re booking a venue or catering for an upcoming wedding or event, make sure you understand their policies. “When can you cancel, what are the fees, and do you have options to make up any missing food and beverage minimums?” she says. Additionally, if you've had to change your date, Clark recommends taking this account before signing any new documentation. "When you sign your contract addendums (or new contracts) see if your venue/caterer is willing to lower their food and beverage minimum for your event," she advises. "This will help protect your investment should you face a drop in the guest count even after a postponement."
- Keep Guests Informed: For anyone who has already mailed invitations, Laesser-Keck recommends sending guests a quick note or updating your website with any new information—basically, a simple message that lets guests know you're monitoring the situation. If you haven’t gone to print on invitations, and if you can, she recommends asking your stationer about the option of paying for rush printing so you can hold off on printing until the very last second. "Make sure you’re designing your invitations with a line item that requests your guests’ email addresses and make sure to direct them to a website for any updated information," she advises. "Being able to easily be in touch with your guests right now is key!" Another tip? "We’re also recommending modifying designs with less time-consuming print material methods—flat printing versus letterpress as an example—and doing online RSVPs, whenever possible, for ease and reliability," she says.
- Design With What's Available: The current climate may hinder your florist’s ability to deliver fresh flowers, depending on where they are sourced. “Our flowers are shipped primarily from portions of the world that are not currently experiencing the coronavirus outbreak, like Holland, Ecuador, and South America, but we do not know what the next few months will bring,” says Christy "CeCe" Todd of CeCe Designs and Events in Birmingham, Alabama. That said, many of the hardgoods that florists use for décor, such as vases and silk flowers for large installations, are likely to be impacted by the virus, she notes. So, if you’re already working with a floral designer, consider discussing backup plans and select a design that does not require the purchase of new products to produce the desired look for your special day.
- Source Local Goods: When sourcing favors and items for welcome bags, consider working with what's available to you—and supporting small businesses!
- Practice Extra Hygiene: “For now, we’re following the CDC guidelines of basic human hygiene, which means washing our hands and/or using hand sanitizer every time we shake hands, touch elevator buttons, open a door, jump on the train, etc. and avoiding touching our faces especially when we’re in public places,” says VillaRamos. Jones reiterates this point. "We're taking extra precaution to ask that staff members showing signs of illness stay home and to place hand sanitizers at entrances to buffets, food stations, and rooms," she says.
- Consider a Virtual Wedding: For elderly guests or those who choose not to travel, Davis suggests considering a live stream of your wedding. “With today's technology, it's quite easy to set something up on social media accounts by going live,” he says. To help, some states have even made Zoom weddings legal. Check out our ultimate guide to throwing a virtual wedding below.
If Your Wedding Is Planned Internationally in 2021
Due to travel restrictions and the amount of travel associated with destination weddings abroad, Valley says that having a backup plan is imperative to couples, their families, and their creative teams. "We don’t know when international flights will be allowed again and, though we hope that’s soon, time will tell," she says. "We hope that our creative partners and friends in Europe and other international destinations will come out of the pandemic strong and ready to celebrate, but we just don’t know what that timetable looks like right now."
What Are Your Options?
Those in this boat basically have two choices: Postpone, downsize or move the destination entirely.